Les Fêtes Bretonnes

Within the extensive summer programming in Brittany, there is an important sub-category: the Breton culture festivals. From what I’ve been able to deduce, there are several main types of Breton festival including these: the religious Pardons honoring specific saints, the regional celebrations such as the Festival de Cornouaille, Fest Noz and other principally musical events, and those honoring traditional crafts. These appear to be quite popular events in Finistère Sud, a hot bed of traditional Breton culture.

Traditional Breton culture almost died out until undergoing a massive revival in the 1970s. It’s taken very seriously now, as these bumper stickers seen everywhere attest. “Breizh” is Breton for “Breton.” The headdress seen here, known as the “coiffe,” is one associated with the women of a certain area of Finistére, a “Bigoudène.” Every region, sometimes different villages within a region, has its own coiffe design.

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I attended the Festival des Brodeuses in Pont l’Abbé, at the end of its three-days’ run showcasing the intricate stitching and embroidery of the Breton costume. Participants wore costumes they or their mothers or grandmothers had made, and paraded through the small town before retreating to a public park where multiple stages held musical acts and festival goers sat at long tables under the trees with their cider and beer. The rousing Fireman’s bagpipe band was at my back as I waited in a long line for my buckwheat crepe. Good thing I like a good drone sound! Off on another stage, I could see a large band accompanying a dozen or so dancers. I was delighted to see these famous musicians in one of the parade bands.

Now, bear in mind that since I first saw Gauguin’s Pont-Aven paintings when I was in high school, I’ve been in thrall to them. However, until recently, it didn’t occur to me that one could still catch glimpses of what those Pont-Aven painters saw. As I mingled with the men, women and children before the start of the parade, I felt at times that I had crossed into the past, right into their paintings.

At the stands where individual “brodeueses” showed their craft, I chatted briefly with this expert. It turns out she is quite famous.

She is the last woman to wear the coiffe as part of her every day dress, and as such, a living symbol of the “Bigoudéne” culture. No doubt, it will live on as long as there are Bretons.


About kmazz

I spend as much time as possible pursuing my interests in global culture, photography, arts and politics.
This entry was posted in Bretagne, Breton costume, Breton music, Brittany, culture, Finistère, France. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Les Fêtes Bretonnes

  1. Francesca says:

    Beautiful photos. I love them 😍

    Sent from my iPhone so please excuse the brevity


  2. Ian Wallace says:

    Great post, Kathleen. The Bretons would seem to excell in upholding their culture and traditions, and perhaps they are better at this than some countries whose history does not stretch so far back? What’s your view?

    Also, do you hear Breton being spoken in shops and on the street? As a linguist of renown perhaps you have already begun to pick up the language?

    Looking forward to more of your astute observations from Bretagane.

    • kmazz says:

      Very few people speak Breton. But some of the older folks in Finistere do. Our landlord’s mother in law speaks it. There are now bilingual schools, optional for Bretons, in several cities including Rennes. Next Sunday we are going to a big festival, which includes a Breton mass in the Quimper cathedral. I once went to a Basque mass just to get an earful so I’m looking forward to it.

    • kmazz says:

      And as you may know, Bretons share ethnic heritage with the Irish, Scots and Welsh. They are all Celts. However, I do not think Breton is related to Gaelic or Welsh.

  3. Ruth Miller says:

    it all sounds so wonderful. We’ll follow in your footsteps soon.

  4. OMG, Kathleen! An marvelous writeup, punctuated by STUNNING photography. Of course, i drift to the B&W, especially the portraiture–truly AMAZING photos; AWARD WINNERS! Pleased for you and proud of you!

    Love to you and David,

  5. Cynthia Pagni says:

    Fantastic blog and images. Thank you for sharing your talent and great eye! Stunning.

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